Society as a whole has evolved significantly due to technology, from the increased efficiency of communication to the types of positions available on the job market. At the same time, our bodies and minds have undergone significant changes as a result of our reliance on technology. While technology has undeniably offered various advantages, here are a few negative ways in which we’ve been influenced by our gadgets (along with some tips for combatting these issues).
1. Memory and attention
If you think back, our childhoods were filled with outdoor games and books that fostered our imaginations. Today, children are offered the television, internet, and digital games, all of which provide endless stimuli and entertainment, making imagination unnecessary and attention spans short-lived.
Psychologist Dr. Jim Taylor links this phenomenon to a Nicholas Carr metaphor: “Book reading is like scuba diving…a quiet, visually restricted, slow-paced setting with few distractions, and [the diver] is required to focus narrowly and think deeply on the limited information that is available.” On the other hand, “using the Internet is like jet-skiing, in which the jet skier is skimming along the surface of the water at high speed, exposed to a broad vista, surrounded by many distractions, and only able to focus fleetingly on any one thing.”
In short, children today have a greater tendency to constantly crave excitement and stimulation, thanks to their technology-filled environments. Technology is not a bad tool, because it provides unlimited resources, but both children and adults have become too accustomed to “googling” information. Some process undergone to discover information support information retention, but the instinctive gravitation towards a search engine (which provides an answer in nanoseconds) does not. Reading, on the other hand, fosters the development of a strong memory, critical thinking skills, and good vocabulary.
“Hunched shoulders” and “forward necks” are becoming increasingly popular due to our sedentary lifestyles. The human head is heavy, and poor posture—including rounded shoulders, slouched backs, and forward necks—forces the spinal cord to carry excessive weight and places stress on the neck. Postures are even affected beyond the desk and chair setting; Surgical Technology International published a study that found that the angle at which a phone is held during texting can ruin one’s posture—as if a maximum of 50 pounds of pressure is placed on the spine. Spinal and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kenneth K. Hansraj advises we avoid holding phones by the waist, as it encourages curvature. One should aim to keep the ears within the same plane as the shoulders—think of the “selfie” position, where shoulder blades are pulled back and the back isn’t hunched over. This applies to individuals who sit at a desk all day as well; adjust your seat or add a cushion to avoid poor posture.
Technology has given a voice to the voiceless. The internet is a free space for everyone to express their opinions—there is little restriction of online speech, as people of any race, social class, and gender can voice their thoughts. Some individuals who are simply shy may find the confidence to express themselves from behind a screen, which can be helpful to personal development. However, there are also some who gain the audacity to spread derogatory messages. Cyber bullies believe that physical isolation justifies online defamation and hate speech, which has contributed to the existence of cyber-bullying—a type of bullying that makes it almost impossible for victims to escape.
4. Inhibited interpersonal skills
Social media effectively connects people around the world, making it easier to maintain friendships. However, the growing reliance on communicating from behind a screen leaves interpersonal skills unattended to, increasing the risk for poor or ineffective face-to-face communication skills—including an inability to resolve conflicts. Communicating through messages grants time to reflect over words, which is an advantage and can prevent misunderstandings or hurt feelings, but it can also inhibit one’s ability to effectively and efficiently communicate orally. Pediatrics nurse Denise Daniels states that reduced “face-time” interaction prevents “kids [from] connecting emotionally.” The screen that connects us to the digital world can easily disconnect us from the real world.
Following the lack of interpersonal skills is the difference in language between generations. While two generations may speak English fluently, they are accustomed to communicating in different manners, often making it seem like they speak different languages altogether. Language changes over time, of course, but the digital age hastens the process with quick communication, making language evolve more drastically over shorter periods of time.